PULLMAN — There is no such thing as a moral victory in college football.
There’s a winner and a loser — and on Saturday at Gesa Field, Washington State beat Idaho 24-17. But why does it feel like the Vandals came away with more momentum than the Cougars?
Is it because Idaho exceeded expectations?
Coming in, the Vandals were 28-point dogs and had been outscored 198-31 in their last three meetings with Power Five opponents.
That’s definitely a factor in why everyone on campus is walking around with a little extra pep in their step following a loss.
However, Idaho senior linebacker Fa’avae Fa’avave summed it up seamlessly during postgame Saturday.
“We won the turnover battle and that was huge,” he said. “But at the end of the day we fell short and there really isn’t much else to it.”
There is no one in the Vandals’ locker room that is taking this in as a ‘good loss.’
However, the seven-point loss did give a glimpse into Idaho’s future and it could be a fun ride for the Vandals. UI has some young untapped talent — but it also has some glaring holes and weaknesses.
Let’s dive into what we learned from Idaho’s loss to Washington State last Saturday.
No QB controversy
Idaho has been searching for consistency at quarterback since 2016 when Matt Linehan led the Vandals to a Famous Idaho Potato Bowl victory against Colorado State.
After Gevani McCoy’s performance, where he went 21-for-32 with 212 yards and a touchdown, it’s safe to say Idaho found their guy.
It took them until kickoff to formally announce that McCoy was getting the start, but after attending a couple of practices, it became obvious he was Idaho’s guy all along.
Eck let McCoy know he was going to be a starter two weeks before the game, and he stepped into that role with swagger. No moment seemed too big for the redshirt freshman.
The youngster made several throws that a veteran quarterback would make. For example, he connected with Jermaine Jackson for 42 yards in the fourth quarter to set up a Ricardo Chavez 27-yard field goal to put the Vandals up two possessions.
However, McCoy did have his moments where he looked like, well, a redshirt freshman.
His first interception came in the second quarter with 2:20 remaining when he tried forcing a ball to redshirt sophomore Hayden Hatten and was picked off by Chau Smith-Wade.
He was pressured by WSU’s ferocious front seven, which forced him out of the pocket, but if he had a little bit of extra time he would’ve seen a wide-open Terez Traynor in what could’ve been a scoring play to put Idaho up 17-7. Instead, the Cougars got the ball back and kicked a field goal to tie the game.
It’s important for a young quarterback like McCoy to take his lumps and learn from his mistakes. But his poise and calmness in the pocket will elevate the offense and allow him to make plays and win games for Idaho.
Front seven is heaven
There was never any doubt about Idaho’s front seven, and they showed up against a Pac-12 offensive line.
Sure, there were some lapses throughout the game, but for the most part, Leo Tamba, Fa’avae, Paul Moala, and company were making some noise for Idaho’s defense.
The Idaho pass rush got after highly touted Washington State quarterback Cameron Ward, registering three sacks and QB hurries.
The most impressive thing the Vandals’ defense did throughout the game was punch the ball out.
All of Idaho’s forced fumbles came via a strip — something Idaho practiced extensively in preparation for the Cougars. Idaho named the punch-out drill ‘shots on goal’ and it clearly worked out well.
“Winning the turnover battle was huge and the defensive staff did a great job all week coaching these guys up,” Eck said. “That was a great job from these guys. Defense isn’t always about just stuffing people, it’s about getting the ball out as well and credit to these guys for making that happen.”
Idaho forced three turnovers, with Marcus Harris scoring on a 45-yard scoop-and-score for the game’s first points.
Fa’avae, a former Washington State player, also punched one out. He filled up his stat sheet against his former team; he led Idaho in tackles with 11, one for a loss, and added a sack.
Overreact on the o-line?
Washington State’s defensive line ranks near the top of the Pac-12 and it went against an offensive line for the Vandals that ranks near the bottom of the Big Sky.
Idaho’s biggest question mark heading into the week was its offensive line, and it’s still a question left unanswered.
Should the Vandals receive a little slack because of who they went against or is it time to hit the panic button?
For now, let’s give them a bit of leeway. However, if this is a glimpse into what Idaho will have to deal with in the future, it’s a good thing the Vandals’ offense is designed to get the ball out quickly.
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